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Richson: Assaults going unreported

BY BRIANNE RICHSON | NOVEMBER 21, 2013 5:00 AM

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It’s easy to turn on autopilot when scrolling through my university email account, but there’s a particular message that always manages to catch my eye amidst a sea of invitations to research studies and random student organizations: notifications of sexual assaults in the university community.

UI students have received two such emails over the past week, the most recent of which referring to an assault that apparently took place at an off-campus fraternity house. The former took place in a university parking lot. Both should be (arguably) approached as non-threatening environments, in a perfect world. But the venues are not what disturbs me the most about these cases.

What really makes me think is the fact that in neither case did the victim decide to report the incident to law enforcement. While I obviously cannot fathom being put into a mental push-and-pull between wanting to move on as quickly as possible and receiving justice, I have to think that there must be some sort of flaw in the system that does not make it easy for victims to both prosecute and start the journey to finding peace of mind.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 60 percent of assaults that occurred within the last five years were not reported to law enforcement. Perhaps this statistic is somewhat related to a lack of faith in the justice system: the network also reports that even a reported rape is “unlikely to lead to an arrest and prosecution.”

Additionally, according to the University of Kentucky Center for Research on Violence Against Women, rapes in which the perpetrator was an intimate partner have an even lower reportage rate.

Not only is there presumably another level of confusion to being raped by someone you know, many victims also feel that they face “secondary victimization” in the justice system, whether on the basis of intense questioning or the prevalence of rape myths.

It should be the primary concern of everyone to whom sexual assaults are reported to ensure the safety and comfort of an assault victim rather than subjecting them to assumptions or further torment. However, as the Rape Victim Advocacy Program website implies, individual responses to the justice system vary: “Some individuals feel a sense of closure and empowerment when working with the legal system, while others can feel re-traumatized.”

Whether it is the legal system itself or the idea of further aggravating one’s persecutor with the prosecution process preventing more widespread reporting of sexual assaults, one cannot be sure.

There is no easy solution to the grim reality that so many sexual assaults fall by the wayside as unprosecuted yet vividly remembered. The issue of awareness does not seem to be at fault either; the resources for understanding what rape is and is not are readily available within our college bubble.

Yet the cycle drones on. The justice system owes it to its principles and sexual-assault victims to look in the mirror and examine why these crimes are going unreported, and what can be done about it.


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